When Queen Uwabuofu gave birth to her first son, she was in financial distress and could not afford clothes for her baby. After training and working as a professional makeup artist and wig maker, she decided to learn to crochet to keep her son warm.
Uwabuofu would spend days watching crochet do-it-yourself (DIYs) and how-to tutorials on YouTube and practicing constantly. Over time, she made clothes and posted some on her WhatsApp status. It received good reviews and orders were soon coming in from friends and family.
Thus was born Clovekids International. Today it is an indigenous doll manufacturer in Lagos, Nigeria. “In the beginning it was custom-made booties, hats, sweaters and dresses for children,” she recalls.
“It went uphill from there,” she adds. The company ventured into making dolls after a near-fatal incident when Uwabuofu witnessed her son nearly choke on a piece of a plastic toy.
At that moment, Uwabuofu realized the need for eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, durable and washable toys for kids. And once again her crochet skills came to the rescue.
Two years after starting her company, Uwabuofu expanded her products to include crochet dolls in 2019. Adding dolls to their product line meant more to Uwabuofu than just toy safety.
Representation is important to this entrepreneur, which is why Clovekids dolls come in a variety of black skin tones.
With a team of other crocheters in her company, she makes handmade dolls that African children can identify with. Some of the dolls have braids, afros and patterned dresses.
“Our dolls fascinate many people. Crochet dolls, black ones at that, are unique and the reception was great; It shows that we are filling a gap that many people didn’t even know existed,” explains Uwabuofu.
The reviews on the Clovekids website give that belief. One customer, Ms. Chioma, is just as fascinated by the dolls as by the packaging.
“I finally got a look at the dolls and they are nothing short of the most exquisite works of art. My kids would absolutely love them. They come packaged so well I don’t have to box them,” reads her review.
The toy industry in Nigeria is still in its infancy. There is an increase in domestic toy companies bringing their products to market. Currently Uwabuofu ships Clovekids dolls to customers in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Germany, UK, USA and UAE. She also sells them on Etsy.
However, she plans to expand her business with stores in Ghana, The Gambia, South Africa, Tanzania and Nigeria, where customers can buy ready-made and made-to-order dolls in stores.
“We also plan to offer our dolls in stores and on e-commerce sites to facilitate distribution,” she says optimistically.
Today, Clovekids International also runs an academy, the Clovekids Academy, which offers online training to aspiring crocheters in over seven countries.
Through the academy, Uwabuofu creates impact with young people after realizing that many of them have dreams but lack the skills, knowledge and resources. She also mentor some young women who have shown their potential in the crochet business.
Among them is 18-year-old Semilore Omobolaji. The young protégé believes she was destined to become an intern at Clovekids International after graduating from Clovekids Academy.
“I was lucky,” says Omobolaji, “In 2021 my goal was to get better at crocheting. Shortly thereafter, a woman from her church approached me and said she would like to introduce me to her friend who runs a crochet shop. Turns out it was Uwabuofu.”
“I started out as a student at Clovekids Academy, which was the only one that took physical classes at the time because their classes are taught online,” she adds.
According to Omobolaji, the academy goes beyond teaching students the craft. It also focuses on helping them build a sustainable business afterwards.
“I am currently running my crochet business enthusiastic about Jiwun while doing an internship at Clovekids. Sometimes when I need help understanding some parts of my business, I go to her (Uwabuofu) for advice,” Omobolaji says. Blessing Eyo, Lead Fashion Designer at Clovekids International, is another person who sees Uwabuofu as more of a mentor than a boss.
“Since I started here two months ago, my ambitions have grown. I design the clothes for the dolls and I enjoy doing my designs,” says Eyo.
Uwabuofu is helping other crafters gain visibility with her recently launched YouTube series, Crafty Hands with Queen TV Show, which showcases “the craft, the crafter, and the craft.”
Despite everything Uwabuofu does, the world notices. In 2021, she won the Creative Business Cup for Most Creative Entrepreneur, receiving a cash prize of Shs8.7 million (US$2,404). Creative Business Cup Nigeria organized the program in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and Pan-Atlantic University’s Enterprise Development Center.
According to the Enterprise Development Centre, Queen Uwabuofu will “represent Nigeria at the Creative Business Cup Global Event in Denmark this year”.